Last night Pastor Greenbean met with his accountability partners at a local burger joint. I have two men who partner with me in this and we meet somewhat regularly. Now, I can’t tell you what we talk about because that is confidential—confidentiality is necessary for honest dialogue among people—but I can share with you the basic aspects of accountability that make it necessary for me, and I believe for everyone who takes following Christ seriously.
- Spiritual growth check-up: The most baseline that an accountability partner or group does is provide a check-up for spiritual growth. I am asked questions like, “What are you reading in the Bible?” and “Who are you praying for?” For my group the questions are a little more pointed and the men ask me questions like, “What in your life has changed because you’ve read he Bible?” I know that it sounds so simple but just having people I know and trust ask me these questions keeps me honest and helps keep me spiritually vibrant.
- Speak truth into your life: To my knowledge there is no living human being who is perfect. Christ already broke the mold on that one. Everyone knows that, but we all live our lives as if we were perfect—at least we don’t want anyone to tell us where we err or what our shortcomings are. But in accountability people are given permission to speak truth into our lives—those things we need to hear and face up to in order to become better Christ-followers. I know that my accountability partners love me and my defensive shielding comes off so that I can hear the truth they speak.
- Someone to confess to: The Bible speaks often of confession, and preachers talk about it a lot too. A passage that has always bothered me is James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” I’m okay with confessing to God, but it is the one another part that troubles me. I’m just Baptist enough to generally believe my sins are no one else’s business. But I need to confess to others; I know it. In my accountability group I am able to confess my sins without fear of judgment. It is nice how much healing emerges from that simple, obedient act.
Perhaps the most important thing about my accountability group is that we pray for each other. Over time I’ve found that I am emotionally invested in their spiritual needs and I pray for them not because of a list but because my heart is aligned with theirs. I believe they pray for me in the same way. There is also the benefit of availability. If ever I struggle; I know I can call one of these men, or they me; and we would help each other. That is the beauty of accountability.
Yesterday I did not preach. That is hard for me. I am, by nature, a preacher—that is my main vocation and so not preaching is like asking the starting quarterback to not play. It’s just hard. But, I was blessed in it because we had Mark Bradley from Golden Gate Seminary up to preach. He preached about “Grace and Truth,” a sermon which jumped off from John 1:14.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The passage says Jesus was full of grace and truth and Mark made the case that we, as Christ-followers, ought likewise to be full of grace and truth. He went on to describe that some of us are more “grace” oriented and others are more “truth” oriented. As he taught this, I discovered that I can go both ways; but it depends on my mood. What I don’t do very often is strike the perfect balance of grace and truth. So this morning I’m thinking about the kind of scenarios where I might do better.
Scenario 1—A woman walks into a room where I am, perhaps at church or someone’s home and I notice immediately that her dress is hideous. The cut is wrong, the colors are giving me headaches and her shoes do not match. How do I respond?
- Grace: “That dress is curious. Where did you get it?”
- Truth: “Your dress makes me vomit. One of us must leave.”
- Both: “Your dress is interesting and commands my attention, but I don’t know if it works for me.”
Scenario 2—A man from my church posts on Facebook that my sermon on a particular Sunday was boring and he did not get anything out of it. How do I respond to their internet insult?
- Grace: Comment, “Thank you for the constructive criticism. I will attempt to do better next time. Please pray for me.”
- Truth: Comment, “I may preach better next time, but you’ll always be ugly and stupid.”
- Both: Don’t reply at all.
Scenario 3—A pastor comes to me seeking my advice on his/her church. After a long drawn-out conversation in which he gives me the blow by blow of the problems I decide that the real problem is him.
- Grace: Say, “Maybe the denomination can help you put the pieces together and figure out where to go from here and how to put things back together.”
- Truth: Ask, “Have you ever thought about a career selling insurance?”
- Both: Say, “Perhaps you might want to ask the Lord to reveal how this might all be your fault.”
The thing I like most about Mark’s emphasis on “grace and truth” is that it affirms what I’ve always believed; I cannot control what other people do or say, I can only control how I respond. Being a Christ-follower demands that I respond in ways that are honoring to him, regardless of how I might feel about it. At the same time, I must respect people and not inflict undue harm.